Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and today I will be discussing the likely effect
of superintelligent machines on helping to establish universal cooperation.
It has been theorised that the evolutionary process could be powerfully
self-directed in the future - that all living things will form part of a
universal, intelligent super-organism that gets to consciously decide
what evolutionary change happens.
Such a scenario contrasts with the traditional processes of evolution by
natural selection - since there are no longer multiple organisms competing
with each other for reproductive success. Instead, a single large organism
fills the entire ecoverse. That organism is effectively immortal, and does not
reproduce itself. If such a scenario materialises, it would represent a
triumph of cooperation over competition.
Looking at the evolutionary history of cooperation, it can be seen that nature
regularly builds cooperative structures. Multicellular organisms arose from
cooperative collections of cells; similarly, social insects are cooperative
collections of multicellular organisms.
In many respects, human civilisation is following the evolutionary trajectory
of the social insects. However, unlike them, we can organise structures on a
planetary scale, as the current global computer network illustrates.
However, at the moment, human organisation is at a primitive level. There is
no global government. Within many of the existing governments, an analog of
natural selection is used to organise metabolic activities - in the form of
competition between companies. Natural selection is generally a very stupid
optimisation strategy - employed by engineers only when they can't find
anything better to use. So: these are very much the dark ages of human
The role of superintelligent machines
That leads us to the issue of the possible role of superintelligent
Such highly-intelligent machines are probably the single most-anticipated
technological development that mankind has ever seen.
Some have imagined a fusion of superintelligent machines with today's
corporate culture - a future where superintelligent companies get to
compete with each other.
I am rather sceptical about this idea - and think we are likely to see
something rather different. I expect that the first superintelligence will
rapidly expand and become ubiquitous - effectively eating the lunch of any
prospective competitors in the process.
If superintelligence arises within the government, then it will probably face
little competition - unless there is not yet a world government - in which
case there probably soon will be.
If superintelligence arises within a company, then it will sell itself to the
government, or otherwise be acquired by the government - or else it will
become powerful enough to infiltrate and control the government to produce a
A superintelligence will normally be "naturally" inclined to prevent other
superintelligent agents with different goals from establishing themselves.
Another superintelligent agent with different goals from you represents a
potential future threat to attaining your own goals.
Of course, this is true of companies as well - and yet the world is full of
companies. Why do they not coalesce? Firstly, they do coalesce - we currently
witness the largest corporate entities the planet has ever seen. However,
there is a monopolies and mergers commission that acts to limit the power of
any one company - and cartels and price-fixing are prohibited by law.
Will the monopolies and mergers commission successfully act to limit the power
of a corporate superintelligence?
The relationship between antitrust regulators and powerful expansive companies
has the general character of a cryptographic arms race. The government uses
surveillance strategies to attempt to expose unwanted cooperation, while the
companies attempt to conceal such activities - using technology such as
encryption, obfuscation, steganography and misdirection.
While the government has not done too badly in these battles historically, it
has not yet had to face a superintelligent opponent.
Getting in between a superintelligent agent and its goals is notoriously an
How smart will superintelligent machines be?
One factor affecting the outcome will be just how intelligent and powerful a
superintelligent agent would be. If we are only talking about an agent which is
a bit smarter than a human being, then perhaps there would be no real
issue. However, my understanding is that superintelligent machines will
rapidly zoom past human capabilities and leave organic brains in the dust.
During the course of human evolution a few simple mutations affecting brain
growth rates resulted in the size of our ancestors' brains increasing by a
factor of three - with a correspondingly large jump in performance. With a
superintelligent agent, such an operation could easily be iterated until a
brain is the size of a mountain was produced - a scale dwarfing the largest
data-centres of today. Also, neurons are enormous, and the signs are that
superintelligent engineers will be able to use nanotechnology to build
universal computing machinery on a far more compact scale - and
of course, smaller components mean faster operation.
We already know how important intelligence is competitively. Our brains are
only a few times larger than those of chipanzees - and yet they have allowed
humans to take over the world. The history of the evolution of brain capacity
among our ancestors is one of an almost continuous upward slope - with very
little back-sliding. At almost every turn, the smarter ancestors won out.
If you look at the role of "signals intelligence" in the last world wars -
you will find that it was of enormous, pivotal importance.
If you then imagine the effect of an agent thousands of times smarter
than a human - it seems clear that such a development will inevitably have an
enormous impact on the planet.
Superintelligent agents will create an explosion of technology
Once we have superintelligent agents, these will rapidly lead to molecular
nanotechnology, nuclear fusion, and expansion into the air, into the ground,
and into the oceans. There will be a dramatic explosion of technology.
Technology often contributes to inequality
Technological progress allows power concentrations to be produced and
maintained - and has created vast inequalities on the planet.
We saw the first millionaire in 1716, the first billionaire in 1916 - and can
expect the first trillionaire within the next decade - probably before 2016.
Technology creates inequality by creating means by which the rich may keep the
poor from redistributing the rich people's wealth. Those means include
political and legal developments, as well as the technology associated with
Information technology is a winner-takes-all ecosystem
In the field of information technology a global marketplace and the
substantial opportunities for customer lock-in frequently creates a
winner-take-all ecosystem. The antitrust regulators are often busy in this
This is likely to apply especially strongly to superintelligence -
which is information technology's ultimate "killer application".
The patent system will not protect the public
The patent system is intended to encourage inventors to publish their
inventions - resulting in them eventually passing into the public domain, from
where they can benefit everyone. However, in computer science, intelligent
programs typically reside on servers - where they are difficult for
competitors to copy, and hard for regulators to inspect.
In such an environment, patents merely act to give your inventions to your competitors.
Trade secrets are a sensible business model in such an ecosystem. There is no
reason to rely on the law to protect you when you can protect yourself.
Code exposure via the brains of autonomous robots will not cause forks
Autonomous robots will eventually become superintelligences in their
own right. Will those expose the secret of superintelligence to
prospective competitors, allowing them to clone and fork the
Probably not. Individual robots will probably be small and not very
intelligent - and their brains will thus pose little threat to a global
intelligence. Also, their brains could be obfuscated, making them difficult to
copy and then modify. A robot maker is not necessarily giving the secret of
their intelligent algorithms away merely by distributing their product.
An unprecidented opportunity
These factors mean that superintelligent machines represent an unprecidented
opportunity for a small minority to gain enormous power on the planet.
Democratic forms of government will tend to oppose such activity - but
revolutions have not prevented the enormous concentrations of weath
and power which we have already witnessed. If government regulators get
between a superintelligent agent and its goals, it is not clear who will win
The second superintelligence
It seems likely that a superintelligence will probably arise out of today's
Companies like Google improve themselves - and contain vast quantities
of information which are trade secrets. These enable them to better
deal with new situations and markets.
The NSA represents a similar self-improving system with secret technologies
within a government department.
It seems likely that one such organisation will pull ahead of their
competitors before superintelligence is developed. When they do go on to
develop a superintelligent machine, they will then be able to deploy
it widely before it faces much competition.
What would happen in the case where two such agents arose at about the same
time? That scenario has been treated by the popular movie, Colossus, the
In the movie, the two superintelligent agents appear to collaborate. However,
that seems like an unlikely outcome to me. More likely they would have
incompatible goals, and each would attempt to ultimately eclipse the other.
Two superintelligences at once seems like an unlikely, but rather worrying
possibility to me. A big battle over the future of the planet seems
undesirable to me - if there is a walkover, then there may be fewer
Another problematical scenario is where the technology of superintelligence
is developed and released by academia, or in an open-source project.
Again, there lots of superintelligent agents might form at once - and then
there might be an extended period of competition before one ultimately drew
ahead of the rest. Such scenarios seem unlikely to me - partly since I think
constructing a superintelligence is a very complex problem - but I cannot
completely rule them out.
In conclusion, superintelligent machines seem likely to contribute to the
formation of universal cooperation - and may dramatically accelerate the
unification of all living things - thus contributing to a world of peaceful
cooperation. A world governed by competing intelligent machines seems as
though it would be a relatively unlikely outcome to me.